Making Niger Delta safe is in the interest of government and people of the region — Dokubo
Special Adviser to the President on Niger Delta and Coordinator, Presidential Amnesty Programme, Prof. Charles Quaker Dokubo, had an interactive session with the media last Tuesday in Lagos. He gave insight into his agenda for the Amnesty Programme.
As an academic managing the amnesty Programme seems to be a different experience. What’s your approach to this new role?
This is a new office, a new challenge and a new environment. In the past, I have written about the Niger Delta and my position has always been that the Niger Delta people have been marginalized; that was my view.
But with the coming of the Buhari administration, which I witnessed, there is a lot of commitment by this administration in Niger Delta in terms of funding, and in terms of looking for peace and security in that environment.
The increase of oil production in the Niger Delta, I think also testifies to the fact that without peace there will be no development and without development, there will be no peace.
I will let you know about that office to which I have just been appointed, my work was to immediately resolve issues; make it possible that the right people were at the right places and also put in all the efforts I can to do my best to make the office work perfectly.
For anyone assuming a new office, you know that there are a lot of problems; those who want things to be done the way it’s been done before and those who like changes.
These are the contesting ideas or contesting environment within which I found myself.
But be that as it may, I put in a review committee to look at issues concerning the Amnesty Office and then, I saw a lot of things that I didn’t even know in the amnesty programme.
I tried to look at the two pivotal issues of the Amnesty Programme: security, development and enhancement of the Niger Delta people.
The programme started very well but with time, it was driven by other demands that made it not to be very impactful.
What I am doing now is to refocus the amnesty programme so that it could positively impact those it is meant to be cater for and you know that on my own, I can’t do it.
That was why I initially made an attempt to meet the critical stakeholders; that is the big five. I think it was the first time in the programme that the big five had come to sit down with me and agree that they are going to drive my programme.
For me, that was the best thing I have ever done; that I could bring these big five, talk to them, listen to them, and put forward the programme that I have developed for the period that I’m appointed. They all bought into that idea and are willing to push it forward.
I’m a Niger Deltan. So, for me, I am ready and willing to carry this project and ensure that those who are groomed to benefit from this programme benefit from it.
What do you mean by the big five?
Big five are those who helped to maintain peace and security in their areas in the Niger Delta.
I don’t call them by their names; I see them as Niger Delta people that are interested in maintaining peace and security. They are stakeholders.
They’ve been involved since the beginning of the programme and whenever there’s crisis in a particular part of the Niger Delta, we will always refer to them; they know the way to deal with it.
What is the state of those who have benefited from the programme?
The fact is that most of them have undergone vocational training and most of them have been empowered to set up their own business.
Some people have been sent abroad for schooling and all that, although I’m trying to put a stop to offshore training because of the amount of money that is expended.
If we can have those people in Nigeria, I think it will be better for us to train them in Nigeria.
For instance, I see no reason why you send somebody to do Political Science in England, while most of the universities in Nigeria offer Political Science.
The amount of money you’re going to spend on one person going to United Kingdom or USA for a political science degree, we can use that money to train four, five people in Nigeria.
And as far as I am concerned, my first assessment of that offshore education is to keep it as a discount. Those who are there will finish; but to get new people there that I will not like to do.
You said your focus is on two main things – security and development. Can you elaborate?
The fact is that to maintain the existing peace in the region is quite important for our function. If there’s a crisis in the region, then, basically all we are putting in place will not work.
So, that’s why the security aspect of it is very important to me and in doing that, you have to pay like stipends to the boys who are working there, enhance their training and empowerment in the areas that we set up vocational centres.
That is the most important thing because if you do that, then you know you have oil revenue increasing, and then you have the Federal Government having some money to pay more into the Amnesty Programme to also empower our people.
If that were done, for me, I would have achieved all that I want in the programme.
An aide to the Minister of State (Petroleum) said the Amnesty Programme is not sustainable. Do you agree?
If somebody said the programme is not sustainable, the person is not talking from my office and the person couldn’t have known the way the programme has been designed to move. But I know that this programme is sustainable.
I know the environment; I know the security environment of the Niger Delta and how it has been sustained to this level where we have massive production of oil and all that.
We’ve also seen periods where we cannot even get a million barrels; now, we have more than that.
So, I know what the programme is going for and I know that after we have carried out enhancement, empowerment and also setting up clusters of farms and other training centres, we can sit back with satisfaction that we have done something.
Hitherto, there was a feeling of marginalization; that the Nigerian people had taken sides with the multinational oil companies so that the Niger Delta people could not be trained and will not be part of that oil that come from their place.
But now, programmes are being done; we work with the oil companies, we also send our people to be trained.
There might be some trouble but surely, I know that with time, these people would be trained to a level that they could see themselves as co-equals to anybody in any part of Nigeria and could be employed to do the work. The alternative will be too ghastly to contemplate.
I see a complete disconnect in the agencies handling the Niger Delta, the Amnesty Office, the NDDC and the Ministry of Niger Delta Affairs in terms of coalescing.
The second is that I do not think that there is enough engagement with the people. I think you need to do more of such engagements with the communities to be sure that even what you are putting there, represents the needs assessments of the people?
You said there is disconnect among the various agencies in the Niger Delta. I think it was so in the past but not recently. There have always been meetings between these three agencies for the Niger Delta.
We meet every week so that we don’t duplicate resources, we don’t work at cross purposes; we are engaging so that we can work together, and you also must bear in mind that in most of these peace building situations, it is always very difficult to get the right infrastructure in the institutions and all that.
These are things we have to take in small doses and that bearing in mind the sensitivity of the people. Those of us who work in the system would know how security environment of the Niger Delta is important and we are trying to work.
You talked about reintegration. Reintegration is the final stage and that is what I said I want to do. Those who have been trained, how do you give them sustainable jobs?
How do you link trainings to jobs? We have situations where we sent our delegates for training with a promise of employment, and that’s what we’re doing now.
There are companies that are laying pipelines; we send our delegates, they learn how to do welding, and they also partake in the laying of the pipes by these companies that are doing it. For me, that’s a step forward.
Is the focus of Amnesty only to get the oil from the region and not how to develop the region; and why the heavy security presence in the area making the people feel under some kind of siege and abuse?
I think abuse is the word I would not accept because the fact is that you must also understand that the government has the right to maintain peace and security in any part of the country. And any government that fails to do that will have itself to blame.
If we are maintaining peace and security in the Niger Delta, embarking on development; making sure that our people get back what they want, then, I see no disconnect in that sense, because like I said, if there’s no security, there will be no development and if there’s no development, there will be no security.
So, in addressing the security aspect of it, we must make sure that the government maintains peace and security in that area, and also that the needs and aspirations of the people are met.
You know that security is more than sending soldiers; it’s about human security.
When the human being becomes a reference point for security, that’s when we talk about security.
It has gone away from the other side to the human security needs and that is what this government is trying to do.
That is what my office is trying to do. It’s not just about securing jobs, but also to make sure that everything about security is about them. They are having rest, they are having work, and they are having pay and all that.
You cannot just lay emphasis on a security plan and if the security is not human centred, then, I think we are wasting our time.
Changing of perception is not something that you do overnight. The fact is that if there’s stability, these soldiers could be withdrawn. The people who live here own this place, it is not owned by any security organization.
But like I said, if we want to maintain peace and security, if we question the security apparatus of the government, then we’re about to drag a wedge between the people and the government. As far as I’m concerned, everybody’s security is very important to the survival of this country.
Do we have a deadline for the Amnesty Programme? Are you still collecting arms? What is your response to the protest by the people of Western Niger Delta that amnesty has not accommodated them?
As far as I’m concerned, I have not been given any deadline. Just to add to what you said, there are people in Ondo State where the government just did amnesty programme, a disarmament programme and they said that they should be added to the Presidential Amnesty Programme. That’s beyond the limit of my office.
I don’t declare amnesty for any person; it’s only the President that declares it, and when the president declares it, then they will be part of the Amnesty Programme.
It is not within my purview to include any person into the amnesty programme. For me, we have to look at it as if it is work in progress, and then, the more we curtail the situation, the better for the programme itself.
Kindly address the issue of perception of the people of Niger Delta in relation to the presence of the military?
What I am saying is that the Niger Delta people will only be secured if they know that they are being taken care of by this government, and that the purpose of police or military in that area for me, does not make us to be people that are under siege.
We believe that we need it, because there are places in the Niger Delta where they have come to me that they don’t even have a police station and that boys roam the riverine areas and all that.
I have made presentation to the Governor of Bayelsa State and I’m going to see him on it.
The people want those areas to be secured; they do not want to be living in a place where one day somebody will round them up and take all that they have.
It is not that you are putting them under siege; you want to make them feel secured, that if anything happens, the police or military will be there to save them.